Brazil: First-round elections leave Lula in right-wing straitjacket

07 October 2022

By Dave Stockton

AGAINST THE run of the country’s opinion polls, which showed Lula da Silva might win outright in the first round of Brazil’s presidential election on October 2, the result was 47.9 percent for Lula and 43.6 percent for Bolsonaro. The far right demagogue, therefore, is still in with a chance of victory on October 30. He performed better than expected in Brazil’s southeast region, which includes the populous Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais states.

In addition, the far right has solidified its hold in the elections to the Senate, with Bolsonaro’s misnamed Liberal Party, PL, winning 14 seats against only 8 for Lula’s Workers’ Party, PT, to become the largest political group in the upper house. The PL also took first place with 99 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, but, because that is elected by proportional representation, it is dominated by the 20 political parties of the so-called “big centre”, Centrao, with 148 seats. This, however, is led by an ally of Bolsonaro, Arthur Lira, who was generously funded by Bolsonaro to get his allies elected.

Bolsonaro supporters and other rightists also did better than expected in governorship elections, although the PT won São Paulo city by a margin of 10 percent. It also performed well in the northeast and in Minas Gerais, an important electoral target.

The other presidential candidates, who are now excluded in the second round, were Simone Tebet, of the centre-right Brazilian Democratic Movement, MDP, with four percent and Ciro Gomes of the centre left Democratic Labour Party, PDT, with just above three percent. Commentators believe their voters will swing to Lula rather than Bolsonaro, but courting their leaders will probably move Lula further to the right, during campaigning for the second round.

Thus, Lula’s first round ‘win’ is far from representing a significant gain for the left. His choice of Geraldo Alckmin, a conservative bourgeois figure, as his vice president, when combined with the power of the right in congress and in many provinces, means that nothing radical can be expected from them in office. Even if Lula were to break loose from their straitjacket and propose pro-working class reforms, in Alckmin the right have another Michel Temer, who headed the 2016 “institutional coup” against the PT’s president, Dilma Rousseff.

Obviously, there is enormous hatred and fear of Bolsonaro amongst great swathes of the working class, the black, indigenous and LGBTQ+ communities, many progressive sections of women, youth and the middle classes. Many influential business sectors now support Lula as the lesser evil because of Bolsonaro’s disastrous covid and economic policies. His record in government has been a disaster, starting with his copying of Donald Trump’s covid policy of denial and peddling quack remedies, as a result of which 700,000 people died. His repeal of environmental protection laws and overt encouragement of the burning and clearing of yet more of the Amazon rain forest saw a doubling of CO2 emissions in 2019/20 compared to the average of the previous decade.

Bolsonaro’s anti-worker economic policies included the labour and pension “reforms” and the running down of the Bolsa Família, Lula’s family support programme. In 2019 alone, this suffered the most significant drop in history, falling from 14 million to 13 million families, whilst those queuing to receive it exceeded 1.5 million. The number of Brazilians experiencing hunger increased from 19.1 million to 33.1 million, or roughly 15.5 percent of the population, from late 2020 to early 2022. With an annual inflation rate of 8.73 per cent, these figures can only get worse.

Bolsonaro’s ideology and rhetoric certainly has powerful echoes of fascism, and his followers perpetrate violent, even murderous, attacks on figures of the workers’ and other progressive movements. However, it is not yet a fully developed fascist mass militia, able to establish a fascist dictatorship. Nor do the upper echelons of the Brazilian bourgeoise call for such an outcome. The same is true of Washington, not to speak of the imperialist powers in the European Union.

They prefer Lula, especially a thoroughly tamed Lula, with Geraldo Alckmin as vice president. Alckmin was, until recently, one of the most important leaders of the PSDB, one of the major parties of the Brazilian bourgeoisie, he switched to a smaller party for the election. Whilst governor of Sao Paulo, he crushed teachers’ strikes and repressed demonstrations, and co-instituted what became known as the Pinheirinho Massacre in 2012, when more than 1,500 families, between 6,000 and 9,000 people, were evicted from the biggest favelas in the region with helicopters, tanks, horses and tear gas. Nor is he simply the vice president. He brings into Lula’s “broad alliance” (popular front) a coalition of bourgeois parties and deputies that will set the economic and social limits of any genuine reforms.

Before the election, Bolsonaro said, “If I lose, it is because the vote has been falsified” and his mass reactionary following would certainly be capable of a far more serious attempt to stay in power than the followers of Donald Trump, who stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. Brazilian society is clearly polarised between a large reactionary block around Bolsonaro, similar to Trump and the Republicans in the USA. He probably has more well-armed supporters now than Trump had during the storming of the US Capitol, so a repeat of this would probably be more bloody and disruptive. Bolsonaro himself has virtually promised a coup, based on non-recognition of the result.

Two factors may counteract this. Firstly, given the opposition of the majority of the Brazilian bourgeoisie, the majority of its parties, the attitude of Biden and the potential strength of the Workers’ Party, the CUT and other social forces, a coup would be a complete adventure. The very strength that Bolsonaro’s forces have shown in the elections suggests a more logical course would be to use his position in the Congress and the governorships, and the undoubted sympathy of the police and part of the army high command, to block and frustrate a Lula-Alckmin government. After all, the next few years are likely to be ones of global economic crisis and they will have nothing like the resources necessary for social reforms, that Lula had at his disposal in 2003-2100. Whether Bolsonaro is capable of this degree of patience we will soon see.

In any case, workers and all the oppressed of Brazil should not wait for the progressive bourgeoisie and liberal imperialists abroad, let alone the country’s armed forces, to defend democracy. Nor can one expect Lula to behave more courageously or resolutely than Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973. A disarmed people, however united, will always be defeated. The workers’ and popular organisations need to do more than demonstrate, they need to form councils of delegates and armed militias to protect themselves against Bolsonaro’s gangs and against any intervention by the military.

Revolutionaries, following the clear advice of Leon Trotsky in the 1930s, and the practice of Lenin in 1917, should place no confidence in Lula-Alckmin either at the ballot box or after. We should only support workers’ and socialist candidates (including the PT) where these stand independently from all bourgeois parties. We should vote for any PT and socialist candidates who do this and are well rooted in the masses, precisely to strengthen the forces of class independence. With them, we should form a united front capable of fighting not only Bolsonaro but also Lula-Alckmin when they attack workers’ rights and conditions.

A government coalition with the bourgeoise will be unable to carry out the vital reforms the workers need. Together with the trade unions of the CUT, it will urge workers to make sacrifices and hold back struggles to preserve this government. This will, in turn, weaken the forces of the workers and all the other progressive forces. As for defending Lula against a Bolsonaro coup, we advocate a united front of the PT, the trade unions, smaller parties like the PSol and the PSTU and the communist parties to defeat it. We argue now for them to form defence guards to ward off any attack on the government from the right.

At the same time, we have to fight for the formation of councils of action, drawing in all working class and progressive forces. We have to push for them to adopt a programme of revolutionary anti-capitalist measures against inflation, unemployment and environmental devastation and for land to the landless, self-determination and land rights for indigenous communities and planned resistance to environmental destruction.

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